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Armenia Backs Out Of NATO Drills In Georgia


Georgia -- Georgian troops leave the Mukhrovani army base after putting down a mutiny, some 30 km from Tbilis1, 05May2009

Armenia cancelled on Tuesday its participation in NATO-led military exercises in neighboring Georgia that have been strongly condemned by Russia, its closest ally.

The Armenian Defense Ministry gave no clear reasons for what appears to be a last-minute decision. A one-sentence statement issued by it cited only unspecified “current circumstances.” The ministry spokesman refused to give further details.

Armenia was among more than a dozen NATO member states and partners that are due to launch the exercises at a Georgian army base east of Tbilisi on Wednesday. Around 1,000 soldiers from these countries will practice "crisis response" through June 1.

Russia has reacted angrily to the planned war games, accusing NATO of raising tensions in the region less than nine months after its war with Georgia. It reportedly deployed troops at the border with Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia at the weekend.

The Russian reaction led Kazakhstan, Moldova and Serbia to back out of the exercises late last month. Yerevan, which maintains closer military ties with Moscow, was still expected to send a small number of troops to the drills until the Defense Ministry statement.

President Serzh Sarkisian reaffirmed his commitment to strengthening Armenia’s ties with NATO during talks with the alliance’s visiting deputy secretary-general, Claudio Bisogniero, on April 28. He described those ties as one of the elements of his country’s national security doctrine.

Armenia hosted similar NATO-led exercises, boycotted by Russia, last fall. The announcement of its decision not to take part in the Georgia drills followed a further upsurge in Russia-NATO tensions. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was reported on Tuesday to have dropped plans to attend a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council this month in protest at NATO's expulsion of Russian diplomats over a spy scandal.

It was not immediately clear if the Armenian pullout had anything to do with a mutiny at another Georgian military base which the authorities in Tbilisi claimed to have peacefully put down on Wednesday. The standoff at the Mukhrovani base just outside
Tbilisi reportedly lasted several hours and ended after the intervention of President Mikheil Saakashvili.

Georgian officials accused Russia of organizing the rebellion to disrupt the NATO exercises. Moscow dismissed the accusation as "insane."
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